Sunday 19 August 2018

Review: The Red Shoes, Gate Theatre, Dublin - Dark and delicious

Review: The Red Shoes, Gate Theatre, Dublin

The Red Shoes cast
The Red Shoes cast

Katy Hayes

Nancy Harris has written a fascinating state-of-the-nation play, pretending to be a traditional Christmas show. It is that familiar fairy-tale thing: a wolf in disguise. The liberation from realism afforded by the fantastical nature of the material allows all sorts of serious themes to be confronted head-on. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen original, which is only a few pages long, Harris has created her version with a firm eye on the nation.

Karen is aged 16 and orphaned by the death of her single mother in small-town Ireland. She is beautifully played and danced by Stephanie Dufresne. The gossips suggest the dead mother was not right in the head. Distant relatives on her absent father's side take her in. Social-climber Mrs Mariella Nugent feels an orphan will make a good accessory in her quest to get on the board of the local prestigious charity organisation.

Bob Nugent is a property magnate developing a casino. He also does a sideline in amateur magic; he is a confidence trickster. It is great to see Owen Roe flex his comedy muscles once again. Mariella is the archetypal nasty stepmother, but also a vehicle for a biting satire on social-climbing Irish charity circles. Marion O'Dwyer is hilarious. Overindulged adult children also get the satirical lash, as represented by the Nugents' taxidermy-artist son Clive, played by a gothic Robbie O'Connor.

The Nugents' old servant Mags had her baby taken from her when she was an unwed mother and she has become institutionalised. Mags is both archetypal fairy-tale grandmother and Magdalen Laundry survivor, played with touching wonderfulness by the brilliant Rosaleen Linehan.

David Pearse narrates and plays the capricious and mischievous shoemaker. He is also the grasping Irish churchman who extorts money from the Nugents for furnishing them with an orphan. The characters are simultaneously folktale archetypes as well as national emblems. This may make it sound like a George Bernard Shaw issues play, but most of that will float over the heads of kids. A 10-year-old boy in the seat behind me interpreted the nightmare dancing scene, explaining which exact characters were being satirised by Monica Frawley's striking costumes: he namechecked the little mermaid, the emperor who had no clothes, the ugly duckling and more.

Selina Cartmell directs with stylish verve. A slo-mo sequence with flying knives and forks gets great laughs. The directorial control of tone never falters. Frawley's burnished gold set design shines; the singing taxidermy is a highlight.

Harris's programme note points to how Disney has airbrushed the darkness out of traditional tales for children; The Red Shoes is about a girl whose feet get chopped off as a punishment for vanity. Its darkness has been retained, but mixed with much hilarity. There is plenty of meat in this Christmas confection.

Book it now

1 TWO OF CLUBS Theatre Upstairs, Dublin until Dec 16

Writer/performer Jessica Leen's debut play is a musical journey from Cork to the jazz scene of New York, just before the outbreak of World War II. Also features performer Darragh Shannon and is directed by Ronan Dempsey.

2 ROMEO & JULIET Touring nationwide until Dec 22

We liked this Ballet Ireland version of the Prokofiev classic so much we've decided to remind you of it as its on tour. This week the star-crossed lovers will pirouette into: Wexford, 10th; Longford, 12th; Limerick, 13th; Ennis, 15th, and Tralee, 16th.

3 THE GRIMM TALE OF CINDERELLA Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin until Dec 23

Based on the traditional fairy-tale, this version by Katie McCann is not exactly the story you might expect. Instead it is the real, true story of a girl named Ella, her stepmother and a handsome prince. Ages 6+.

Finely-tuned fairy-tale for children

They Called Her Vivaldi, Peacock Theatre, Dublin

Theatre Lovett brings this delightful children's show to the Peacock, having shown it at a number of festivals. It is about a gifted child who makes money for her widowed Dad in his haberdashery by writing songs for people. Vivaldi is super sensitive to noise, and her father has made her a hat that covers her ears and regulates her exposure to sound.

Written by Louis Lovett, the ingenious tale is set in Triste, an Italian town that feels like Trieste or Venice. It has a distinctly European fairy-tale feel. A dodgy customer comes into the haberdashery and wants to borrow things. His shoes squeak, like a cat. That is the signature of the cat burglar.

He leaves, but Vivaldi's special hat has now vanished. She needs her hat to go outside on to the street, but she must go out without it in order to find this burglar.

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman plays Vivaldi, creating an awkward child with facial tics and physical recoil when faced with the horrors of the outdoors and extra-loud wind. Her journey through town is also a journey through her fears.

Along the way she and we meet the townspeople: the pizza chef whose salt has been stolen; the unhappy hairdresser whose scissors disappear; the gondolier who cannot work because his oar is missing.

Lovett plays all the parts other than the heroine. His physical comedy and mime skills all come into play and his performance style is a delight. There are plenty of funny interactions with the audience.

Directed with style by Muireann Ahern and Carl Kennedy, the show has Kennedy's signature playful and highly effective audio tricks. Watch out for the invisible sword fighting and the conducting of imaginary orchestras.

The set by Zia Bergin-Holly is a series of seaside poles that resemble tall narrow buildings, but move around to create streetscapes. They light up in a toy-like fashion, all utterly charming. Geared at children aged 7+, this is an original and highly entertaining piece of work that'll leave you well-tuned.

Katy Hayes

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